Memorial tablet on Ampersand Mountain
Born: April 7, 1852, Salem, Massachusetts
Died: March 16, 1924, Plainville, Massachusetts
Married: Laura J. Miller, in 1885
Children: Herman, Seaver Miller Rice, Irving, Walter Livingston, and Sturgis
Walter Channing Rice built the fashionable Villa Dorsey on Dorsey Street that served as one of the first two cure cottages in the village. He served on the Saranac Lake water and sewer commission for three years, and also served as town tax collector. He worked as a hunting guide, known for his knowledge of woods lore and for his ability to spin tales of backwoods adventure. He had a camp named Camp Wah-Loon-Dah.
His poetry and prose was published in a number of periodicals. He was best known in his role as fire observer on Ampersand Mountain, where he spent eight years until shortly before his death, greeting scores of hikers, and helping them to recognize the view from Ampersand. A plaque on the summit, erected by his sons and friends, is still in place. He is buried in Pine Ridge Cemetery.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, March 17, 1924
Malone Farmer, March 19, 1924.
HERMIT OF AMPERSAND MOUNTAIN.
Walter C. Rice, Noted Adirondack Resident; Gone to his long Rest.
Many people, not only in Northern New York but everywhere, have learned with sorrow of the passing of Walter C. Rice, Adirondack guide poet and philosopher, so long known as the "Hermit of Ampersand Mountain." He passed to the Elysian Fields at Plainville, Mass., on Sunday at the home of his son Sturgis with whom he had spent the winter. For two years he had suffered from a heart difficulty which compelled him to resign as a watchman on Ampersand mountain and leave the wilderness solitudes of which he was so fond. His remains were brought back to Saranac Lake, for nearly all his life his home, on Monday and the funeral took place from the church of St. Luke, the Beloved Physician, of which deceased had long been an adherent, yesterday. Rev. E. P. Miller, brother-in-law of deceased officiated at the last sad rites and the remains were laid away in Pine Ridge cemetery.
We made the acquaintance of Mr. Rice in 1882, three years before his marriage to Laura J. Miller, daughter of the late Van Buren Miller, then one of the most prominent and influential residents of the Adirondacks. She was a woman of beautiful character and a most worthy helpmeet who died a number of years ago. Mr. Rice was one of the most loyal, tender-hearted and lovable men we ever knew. He loved the wild and all the living things which it contained, and had a poet's soul, together with a quaint philosophy of life which imparted the charm of right living and contentment in all whom he met. He spent many years as a guide and had a profound knowledge of woods and mountains and forest lore. And he wrote charming stories of wilderness life and adventure, both in poetry and prose, which were widely published in Northern New York, papers.
Mr. Rice possessed a remarkable sense of appreciation of the beautiful and knew the beauty spots of mountain and lake as few have known them. And he had the gift of pointing them out and making them appreciated by others. He was one of Saranac Lake's most intelligent and progressive citizens. He cast the first vote for the incorporation of the village in 1892 and aided in the promotion of every movement for the welfare o the place. For years he conducted Villa Dorsey, one of the first boarding cottages established there, and later became famous as the lone watchman on Ampersand Mountain, where he communed with nature and never became lonely. Hundreds of summer guests visited him there each season and he became noted far and wide for his kindness as a host and the pains which he took to make their visits enjoyable. Mr. Rice loved the solitudes and his rest will be sweet. Four sons and a sister survive. They are Seaver, of Southbridge and Sturgis, of Plainville, Mass.; Irving, of Hartford, Conn.; Herman, of Saranac Lake, and Mrs. R. E. Woodruff, Morrisonville, N. Y. Mr. Rice was 72 years of age.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, October 27, 1966
This 'N' That
by Helen Tyler
[…] Walter Rice was a very small child when his father, Henderson Rice, brought his family from Vermont to the Franklin Falls section of northern New York state, in the early 1850's.
From his very early years Walter had a love for the Adirondacks which never dimmed but grew as he grew, — in size, and age, and understanding.
It is hard to realize that 100 years ago this north country was much more of a wilderness than it is now. And back in the last century, and the early years of this one, not many people came into this portion of the North Country to hunt, fish, or just plain explore, without hiring a good "guide" to guide them to wherever they desired to go. Also the guide usually provided whatever was needed for camping equipment, served as cook, handy-man, and general planner of the whole outing. In fact he might have been considered "boss" of the whole expedition. You may think that he must have been considered a very lowly servant indeed, but this was not so. A good guide was much looked up to, and very highly regarded by those he served. This type of guide has long been gone from the Adirondack scene. But it was that type of work,- guiding,- that was Walter Rice's main vocation for many years.
In 1885 Walter Rice married Miss Laura J. Miller, who was the daughter of Van Buren Miller; who was one of the early settlers and developers of Saranac Lake.
It was in 1886 that Walter Rice built the large house on Dorsey St. that soon became known as the "Villa Dorsey." (This building was torn down a few years ago to make room for the LaPan Highway.) The Rices operated their house as a boarding "cottage," and it wasn't long before it was considered a "most fashionable" stopping place for tourists and health seekers. At about that time the village of Saranac Lake began to come into prominence as a health center for tubercular patients, and the Rice Cottage was one of the first two boarding cottages in the village to be operated as health cottages for tubercular patients. It was in this same "cottage" that the Rice's five sons were born, and it was there that their mother died in 1910.
Mr. Rice was always eager to help out with any project that would further the growth and progress of his chosen village. It was he who cast the first vote for the incorporation of the village in 1892. He served for varying lengths of time on the water and sewer commission, as town tax collector and member of the Woodruff Hose Company.
Matters of business often required his presence on the Main Street side of the river, so, strictly for his own convenience Walter Rice built a foot-bridge across the Saranac River from the river bank in front of his Villa Dorsey home, to the opposite bank behind the building on Main Street. The bridge was only about two feet above the water. During the early years it had to be taken down every spring for about ten days, during the log drive, to allow room for the logs to float down the river. Otherwise logs would have caught on the bridge or on the upright posts supporting it, and that would have caused a log-jam to form.
Through the years Walter Rice spent much of his otherwise "spare time" exploring the mountain wilderness. Of his own volition, and on his own time, he marked out many trails so that others who might also desire to explore would be in no less danger of getting lost.
As a boy he obtained the most [illegible] of his formal education in the Franklin Falls school [illegible section]
[…] a well stocked library which often amazed the mountain climber who visited a while as they stopped to rest. Here was to be seen many of the classics, among them the complete works of Dickens, Tennyson, Shakespeare and O. Henry. All his books and other supplies he had to tote to his cabin, on his back in his Adirondack pack basket. It is to be remembered that this man who became known throughout this area as "The Hermit of Ampersand" was 63 when he began his mountain job, and already an old man according to some standards. However, neither lack of formal education, nor advancing age kept him from writing many an article, and poem, usually using some phase of his loved wilderness as his subject.
Outside of his specific duties as fire observer he served the Conservation Commission in various ways, often being able to obtain some much desired information about the wilderness, or its inhabitants of wild life. During otherwise idle time, when on the mountain, he spent many hours improving the trail to the summit by putting up railings and guide posts, and even building ladders to help in the climb where the trail was especially steep.
Because a fire observer is not needed on the mountaintops during the winter Walter Rice had time then for other interests. One of those winters—1920-21, — he spent four months in the Lake Colden country where he measured the rise and fall of the Opalescent River for the State. (Lake Colden is not far from the western base of Mt. Marcy. The Opalescent River is its outlet and flows southwestward into Harris Lake near Newcomb.) For the entire four months that he was in that area Mr. Rice didn't see any other human being. He was then 68 years old.
The World War I years must have been hard on this man. As he searched the horizon for signs of fires one can imagine him raising his strong binoculars high in an effort to see far beyond the seeable horizon to other areas in search of the sight of any one of his five sons who were all serving in that war. In those days visitors to the mountain noted with interest the "Service flag" with the five stars which floated above the roof of his cabin, and which he pointed to with justifiable pride.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, November 7, 1966
Our story today is a continuation of last week's story about Walter C. Rice, or "The Hermit of Ampersand," as he was affectionately called hereabout.
Walter Rice was one of the early inhabitants of Saranac Lake, and one of his sons, Herman Rice, is still living in Saranac Lake, at 1 Riverside Drive. The most of the data for last week's story was obtained from clippings lent to me by Mr. Herman Rice, and a smaller portion came from a letter which his brother, Seaver M. Rice, of Southbridge, Mass. wrote to me some five years ago.
Information for today's story came from a different source: Through the kindness of Mrs. Ruth Worthington, loyal guardian of the treasures in the Saranac Lake Free Library, I was allowed to look through some precious old scraps books. A clipping from the Adirondack Enterprise of November 9 in 1917 had this to say about Mr. Walter Rice, and his work on Ampersand Mountain:
Walter C. Rice, "Hermit of Ampersand Mountain," is mingling again with his fellows, walking paved streets and again amenable to all the little conventionalities of social life, but viewing the change with none of the elation that might be felt by a man who has lived alone since last spring on a mountain, protecting the forests from the ravages of fire.
"Mr. Rice would take exception to that word, "alone."
'I'm never lonesome,' he said the other day. "I have the whole Adirondack range as company. There are trees upon Ampersand that are almost as intimate as my friends: birds that come and sing for me during the long hours; squirrels that greet me with chirp of welcome every day. I've lived in the Adirondacks all my life and I love the trees and the mountains and the lakes as much as man can love men."
"Mr. Rice returned from his vigil last Sunday after remaining on Ampersand since April 25 last. During the summer 300 visitors toiled up the mountain slope to stand on the peak with Mr. Rice and listen to his description of the beauties of the region. One of those parties consisted of Saranac Lake Boy Scouts, who were told many absorbing tales of woodland lore by Mr. Rice. Another visitor, who lives in New York, told Mr. Rice that he should keep a register so that the names of visitors might be signed. Upon his return home the man sent a register to the mountain sentinel.
"Mr. Rice said he reported only four fires during the summer, none of which were serious. The first year he was stationed on the Mountain, 1915, he reported 21 fires to the rangers.
He said that October brought the most disagreeable weather for that period. He said last month was the most disagreeable October since he was as assigned to the mountain. […]
The Hermit of Ampersand died two years later at the age of 72. But there are many people here-about who, as young men and women knew him when he was still living in his mountain cabin. I find they still have warm memories of him after the passage of more than 40 years. As for his sons—their admiration and loyalty for their father seems to have increased rather than diminished through the years. From the very little they have said to me I have the feeling that "The Hermit of Ampersand" was a much-loved hero to his sons.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, April 30, 2005
Part III: Ampersand — Mountain, Lake, and Hermit
By Phil Gallos
No one had more time to marvel and think, no one knew this scene more intimately than Walter Channing Rice, The Hermit of Ampersand.
Walter Rice was born to Henderson and Mary Ann Rice in Lowell, Mass., on April 6, 1851. Some years later, the Rices moved to Franklin Falls, New York, and managed the hotel there in 1862-63.
In 1885 Walter married Laura J. Miller, the great-granddaughter of Captain Pliny Miller who was the head of the second family to settle at Saranac Lake.
In 1886 the Rices built a large boarding house on the left bank of the Saranac River where the LaPan Highway Bridge now crosses. The house came to be known as the Villa Dorsey. Its reputation was very good; and it was, along with the Evans Cottage, one of the first two curing cottages in the Village of Saranac Lake.
The Rices' five sons were born in the Villa Dorsey, and Laura Rice died there in 1910. Soon after his wife's death, Walter sold the Villa.
His sons were grown. He had an excess of time and he was too vibrant a man to just sit and wait for the time to pass, so he turned to the forest.
He found employment again as a guide; and, later, he went to work for the Conservation Department. In 1915 he became a fire observer on Ampersand Mountain.
For the next seven years, Walter Rice lived on the mountain from early April to late October, earning the title of "Hermit of Ampersand.
For those seven years, seven months a year, Walter Rice lived with the mountain as much as on the mountain. Every stone, every tree, every part and parcel of the vast panorama, every animal and insect and clump of moss was a companion, someone, not just something.
After he came down the mountain for the last time, the tears welling up in his eyes, Walter Rice said, "I never found it lonesome on Ampersand for I have friends up there. I have a feathered orchestra to waken me in the morning and hedgehogs who come most informally to visit me at night. And throughout the day the squirrel chatters nonsense at me and occasionally a deer looks at me in amazement."
And he had other friends. He had Shakespeare, Dickens, Tennyson, Byron — all in his cabin on the mountainside.
During the summer, there were the scores of hikers who were lucky enough to find more than a view at the end of the trail, lucky enough to find this 70-year-old Man of the Earth who was willing to share with them a good story and bit of his wisdom.
Walter Rice wanted to have a plaque placed on the summit of his mountain as a memorial to those men whom he so admired.
In 1930 the idea of a plaque became a reality. It reads: "In Loving Memory of Walter Channing Rice, 1852-1924, 'Hermit of Ampersand,' who kept vigil from this peak, 1915- 1923." The bronze plaque was purchased, carried up the mountain, and placed by Walter's sons.
Walter Rice was not actually a hermit. He was in touch with everything. The closing chords of his life were of an intense and sustained volume; but those chords were as clear as and as, free as the winds which washed his mountaintop.
If there was discord, it was of thunderstorms and bobcats and not of garbage cans and brawls. If there was sadness, it was sadness without despair. If there was solitude, it was solitude without isolation. When there was death, it was understood.
His obituary confirms this. "When his summons came he went sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust, like one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him and lies down to pleasant dreams."